Sekigahara – Japan’s Defining Samurai Battle

ByMark Guthrie
Jun 30, 2014

Sekigahara – Japan’s Defining Samurai Battle

Sekigahara_battleAs you may or may not know, the Chubu area witnessed the scene of perhaps the most important and defining battle in Japan’s history. The Battle of Sekigahara, maybe best considered to western minds as Japan’s Gettysburg, took place in 1600 in the town of Sekigahara, Gifu. It was pitched between two of the greatest daimyos of the age: Ishida Mitsunari, leader of the western armies loyal to the child ruler Toyotomi Hideyori; and Tokugawa Ieyasu who would come to unite Japan under his and his family’s rule until the feudal era was dismantled by the Meiji restoration.

Today, some 400 years later, the town of Sekigahara still carries the legacy of that monumental battle in which up to 40,000 people lost their lives in a staggeringly bloodthirsty six hours. That legacy is tourism. There are many sights in the area including Sekigahara Town and History Folklore Museum, the site of the final battle itself and Higashi Kubizuka Nishi Kubizuka where the heads of the vanquished western samurai were buried under an immense tree.

You can also visit the positions of the commanding daimyos of the time from which, as you look out across the town and the fields, you can truly imagine what carnage unfolded below, at such close quarters, and what horrors the townsfolk of the sleepy rice harvesting town would have witnessed. Particularly impressive is the position of Ishida Mitsunari, where ramparts have been built to recreate with historical accuracy, how it would have looked on that fateful day.

The battle site of Sekigahara is of particular interest to hikers with a historical penchant, who can wander along four main trails (The Kessen Course, Tenkatori Course, Kogun Course, and Shizen Sansaku Course) which weave through the foothills, passing the many points of interest along the way.

While the historical accuracy of some of the locations of these points is open to debate (not least by Chris Glenn, local historian and author of upcoming book Sekigahara: The Samurai Bloodbath That Forged Japan), one place that is not such a stickler for the facts is Gifu Warland. Perhaps the most bizarre of tourist tributes, this museum of sorts recreates, using concrete mannequins, the battle that took place in the town. Grizzly scenes depicted include sword fights, the ritual suicide of the leper lord Ōtani Yoshitsugu, as well as decapitated heads being carried to and displayed at naming ceremonies. Ignore the fact that some of the daimyos present had passed on some fifteen years before the battle took place, and you can spend an interesting, yet slightly creepy, time wandering amongst the battle scene as the tune “Ah, the decisive battle of Sekigahara” plays on an eerie, continuous loop.

Sekigahara is an easy day trip from Nagoya. A JR train on the Tokaido main line will get you there in one hour. However, if you wish to visit all points of interest and you don’t have the legs for a hike, it may be advisable to take the 45 minute car journey and drive from point to point. Also, none of the battle sites, the Sekigahara Town and History Folklore Museum, nor Gifu Warland exhibits are marked in English, so it may be a good idea to bring a Japanese friend if you feel language may be a problem.

Image by Mark Guthrie

About the author

Mark Guthrie editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Mark whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves. Find some more of his musings at www.markguthriewrites.com and on instagram @markguthriewrites